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No Big Deal

From Chapter 16 ("No Big Deal") of Subtle Sound: The Zen Teachings of Maurine Stuart:

Our Zen life is ordinary life. When we start adding things to it, as Nyogen Senzaki said, it's like "painting legs on a snake." Just to be ordinary is the most difficult thing. To be plain, to be simple, not to make a fuss about anything, this is our Zen life.

Joshu, one of the greatest teachers, always used whatever was at hand. His teachings were along the lines of, "Have you eaten your porridge? Have you washed your bowls?" Of course, when such ordinary acts are done thoroughly, completely, cheerfully, then they become extraordinary. Every single bite of porridge is tasted, fully. But it is not done with the feeling of doing something special. There is no self-congratulatory inner voice saying, "Oh, look! I'm such a wonderful Zen student, sitting long hours, doing everything so mindfully." We just do it, with no thought about it, whatever it is. To draw attention to what we are doing would be sickening, and would have nothing to do with Zen.

We just wash our bowls, washing away any excessive use of Zen terminology, any allusions to enlightenment. For our practice to become more ordinary, more real, we use words that everybody can understand. We refer to what is right here, right now. We sit, we walk, we cook, we eat, we clean, we have nosebleeds, and it's just here, right in front of us. No big deal.

Practicing together is a wonderful, extraordinary experience, yet we are so much in it that we can't even talk about it. There is nothing to say. Every single act, everything we do is the expression of our true nature. We may not know it, we may not be aware of it, we may not even think we have any insight, but everything we do is an expression of who we are: standing up, sitting down, eating, drinking, laughing, crying, washing our bowls. Especially if we do it unself-consciously.

And we have never done any of it before. This is the first sitting, the first kinhin we have ever experienced. We are fresh, completely fresh, taking nothing for granted, with no ideas about what Zen is. Everything is seen as if for the very first time. Even though the sesshin schedule may be very familiar to some of us, we are going through it with keen attention, really being present with each moment, really eating our porridge, really washing our bowls. And when it's done, it's done. There's nothing to hold on to. Nothing.

Nor do we hold anything back. We don't think, "Next time things will be easier, I'll work harder, I'll be able to concentrate better, I'll do better." Right now is all we have. That's it. So let's be here. Let's burn up our resources unstintingly. When we think we have something, we just forget about it. We start all over again, going deeper and deeper, never thinking we have completely understood. Sometimes people ask me, "When did you finish your Zen training?" I have never finished. There's no end to it. When we think we have attained something, we're in trouble. We need to wash away everything and become a beginner over and over and over again.

A young woman called me this week from California to tell me she had cancer. Very worried, very upset, she said, "I am preparing to die." I said, "How about preparing to live? They go together." And then I asked her, "Do you know any people who need help?" She said, "Lots." I told her, "Well, you'd better get busy. Don't worry about your lump. Find somebody else to help." ...

^z - 2017-06-07